We welcome Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld back to the blog today. On the topic of dealing with grief during the holidays Dr. Neeld has some sage advice and creative ideas to help the bereaved. There’s comfort and compassion in her words, something that is always needed at this time of year. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator
Words for Those Who May Be Grieving During the Holidays
My great-grandmother Susan’s farmhouse was heated by the fireplace, which also served as the cooking stove. Every night before she went to bed, Grandma leaned into the wide fireplace with its iron pots for simmering stews and flat pans with long handles for baking sweet potatoes, to spread the burning embers and then cover them with ash. By protecting these embers during the night, come morning light, she could stir a fire to start a new day.
Many of us, doing our best at this holiday time of year to cope with loss and pain, find ourselves looking into our hearts and seeing only gray, cold ashes. We wonder—and perhaps even doubt—if there are any embers left to stir again into the light and warmth of a comforting fire. What are we to do during the cold, dark night?
What are we to do with the love that now seems to have nowhere to go? How do we express our connection with someone who is no longer here but who is still as close to our heart as our very breathing? I remember what my sister Barbara did the first Christmas after our mother and father died: she made tiny bears out of Daddy’s ties and tiny rabbits out of Mother’s 50th wedding anniversary beige silk dress and gave them to my brother and me for Christmas. My friend Kay asked each family member at her holiday table to share a memory of her son. My Aunt Blanche insisted on talking to her late husband Steve, an act that grief experts assert is a valuable thing to do. Two precious children I know made ornaments for their absent dad and gave them the most prominent place on the Christmas tree.
What about the emotions that swirl? Anger. Blame. Confusion. Fear. The most useful thing I know is to invite these intense feelings to come sit with us by the hearth. The emotions are real and they are honest. Rather than shun them because we think they are negative, our best response is to include the emotions, express them, talk with others about them.
And speaking of others. While the fireplace seems only to contain ash, we need the warmth, the support, the presence of our family and friends. We also need to take care of ourselves. Whatever nurtures us we should do. A massage, a visit with a counselor, a medical checkup, a walk, a prayer, putting hyacinth bulbs in a clear crystal vase to bloom during the coldest winter months, building a bird house. All can sustain us and help us endure.
When day broke on the farm in middle Georgia, Great-grandmother Susan returned to the fireplace. She flicked off the top layer of cold gray ash and began to arrange the tiny red embers. As she blew and stirred, she incanted an ancient Irish blessing passed down in her family for generations: Blessed by the Light of Peace. Blessed by the Light of Grace. Blessed by the Light of Light.
And when the embers finally ignited into a warm blaze, Grandma stared into the spreading glow and added: Blessed by the Light of Love.
May all of us this winter season know that we are blessed by the Light of Love.
Elizabeth Harper Neeld, Ph. D. has written an internationally acclaimed book on grief and loss, Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World. PBS did a one-hour documentary based on Seven Choices that was shown on public television stations throughout the US; and Iowa Public Television did a one-hour documentary on Seven Choices that was shown in their large mid-west market. The American Red Cross chose Seven Choices as the book to distribute in New York at 9/11. For more about Elizabeth Harper Neeld and her work, see www.elizabethharperneeld.com.
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